Covid-19

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Parliament: Health Minister Zweli Mkhize lays out plans for vaccine administration

Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize hopes to conclude negotiations with coronavirus vaccine suppliers and begin vaccinating frontline healthcare workers in February. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

To end off a busy week, in which the first doses of the Covid-19 vaccine arrived in South Africa, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize appeared before Parliament’s health oversight committee on Friday to answer questions from MPs on the country’s rollout of vaccines.

“Honourable minister, we would want to remember this week as your vaccine week – and your birthday,” said Sibongiseni Dhlomo, the chairperson of Parliament’s health oversight committee, to Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize. 

Mkhize’s birthday was the day after the country received its first million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, 1 February. 

While Mkhize thanked MPs for their well-wishes, he said he was in Parliament to lay out the country’s vaccine programme. 

South Africa wants to vaccinate around 40 million people, divided into three phases. In the first phase, 1,5 million vaccines will be distributed to frontline health workers. 

Mkhize admitted he was aware of the problems the country faced, but said there was an inter-ministerial committee set chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza as well as other structures set up by the director general of the Health Department along with labour unions, the private sector and civil society to help with the vaccine rollout. 

When asked by several MPs about the readiness of all provinces to distribute and administer vaccines, Mkhize said for those provincial departments that were not yet ready, “we will meet with them” to discuss readiness. Mkhize was asked by DA MP Siviwe Gwarube about a comprehensive plan for the vaccine rollout, Mkhize said of the department’s plan – “we don’t expect this plan to be smooth in its implementation”. 

The minister suggested the country “must expect mistakes”. 

During Friday’s session there were also discussions around the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine in those over the age of 65, as countries such as Norway and Denmark had not issued that vaccine to this age group. Mkhize said more research was being done into this issue. 

Naledi Chirwa from the EFF questioned if there were plans to develop vaccines in the country, to which Mkhize said Higher Education, Science and Technology and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande was looking into this. 

Mkhize told the committee there was “no need to worry about vaccines in December 2021” as 500 000 more vaccines were due to arrive later in February. According to the Health Department’s presentation, 8 million people will be targeted for vaccines in the country’s second phase of distribution and in the third phase, 25 million people will be targeted.

Addressing a question by Freedom Front Plus health spokesperson Philip van Staden on why a province like the Western Cape could not procure its own vaccine, Mkhize urged politics to be taken out of the conversation. 

There were practical issues at stake, he said: the Treasury needed to make deviations for the Health Department to allow funding for a province to seek out vaccines independently, which meant the Treasury would need to do so for all provinces. The other problem was manufacturers put conditions that only governments could take “responsibility” for, said Mkhize. Thus, these issues would make it practical for a country to seek vaccines centrally. 

EFF MP Sophie Thembekwayo questioned where Finance Minister Tito Mboweni was as her party had hoped that he would be present to explain the vaccines’ financing. Dhlomo, however, interjected to say Mboweni will be requested to appear before the committee at a later date to discuss finances. 

“As things unfold, we will explain,” said Mkhize about further developments in the country’s vaccine rollout. DM

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments, is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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